Michigan: The State of Emergency

images[10] Small and large school districts and municipalities across the state of Michigan are falling like dominoes under the cumulative effects of slashed public education funding and revenue sharing, per pupil funding inequities, and years of unconstitutional unfunded mandates piled-on by inexperienced lawmakers.

Last week we learned that the small tourist mecca of Elberta is in trouble, and it’s now reported that they were unable to meet the deadline for submitting a five-year deficit reduction plan. It will be interesting to see if the state opts to spend large sums of tax payer dollars conducting audits and reviews to put them under emergency management for their $560,000 debt. That would certainly illustrate the truth about the emergency manager law — it’s not about fiscal responsibility at all, it’s simply a tool for control and punishment.

This week we find another school district and two more cities with their backs to the wall. Michigan’s (comically named) Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board will be reviewing the finances of Ecorse Public Schools, the city of Highland Park and Royal Oak township. They will determine if these public bodies are ripe for application of the emergency manager law. If the board finds them to be in financial stress, they won’t offer “assistance”, nor provide a “loan“, they will turn them over to Gov. Snyder’s office for further consideration in the form of a review team whose job it is to offer the distressed bodies a choice of the four poisons: a neutral evaluation process, emergency management, bankruptcy, or a consent agreement.

In question is whether the governor even respects the process of his emergency manager law to begin with. A legal challenge to the assignment of Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, has brought to light some irregularities in the timeline of his appointment. The Detroit News reports that:

Redacted documents disclosed in the suit reveal Snyder’s office entered into a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement Jan. 7 with an unnamed man “to hold discussions regarding the possibility of the appointment of an emergency manager.” The state didn’t declare Detroit to be in a financial emergency until Feb. 19.

Under the governor’s orders, Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a motion last Friday with Wayne County Circuit Court to seal email and correspondence related to the selection of the Detroit emergency manager, citing executive privilege. The motion will be considered on Tuesday morning. The state is attempting to make the case that it is trying to protect the privacy of the candidates that were under consideration. Sure.

In practice, Gov. Snyder’s dictator law is all about opacity, and precious little about fiscal responsibility.

Amy Kerr Hardin

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